Monthly Archives: January 2005

Lost in New York

I’m off to New York City for a few days. Since I’ve never been there before, it should be fun. I’m going to see Avenue Q tomorrow night, visit museums, and see an old friend from high school. So probably won’t be blogging til next week.

Adoration

Images on the altar,
Or imagined within:
We pray to them,
But do they answer?

The wise tell us how important adoration is. So we kneel before altars, give offerings, and make sacrifices. In our meditations, we are taught to see gods within ourselves and to make supplications to receive power and knowledge. This we do with great sincerity, until the masters say that there are no gods. Then we are confused.

The statue on the altar is mere wood and gold leaf, but our need to be reverent is real. The god within may be nothing but visualization, but our need for concentration is real. The attributes of heaven are utopian conjectures, but the essence of these parables is real. The gods, then, represent certain philosophies and extraordinary facets of the human mind. When we devote ourselves to gods, we establish communion with these deeper aspects.

The thought that we are worshiping symbolism may make us uncomfortable. We are educated to accept only the tangible, the scientific, and the material. We doubt the efficacy of adoring the merely symbolic, and we are confused when such reference brings about genuine person transformation. But worship does affect our feelings and thoughts. When the wise say that there are no gods, they mean that the key to understanding all things is within ourselves. External worship is merely a means to point within to the true source of salvation.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Some scientists have begun exploring the links between the brain and religion. In “The God Gene”, Dean H. Hamer discusses his findings about brain chemistry and religion:

What he found was that the brain chemicals associated with anxiety and other emotions, including joy and sadness, appeared to be in play in the deep meditative states of Zen practitioners and the prayerful repose of Roman Catholic nuns — not to mention the mystical trances brought on by users of peyote and other mind-altering drugs.

At least one gene, which goes by the name VMAT2, controls the flow to the brain of chemicals that play a key role in emotions and consciousness. This is the “God gene” of the book’s title, and Hamer acknowledges that it’s a misnomer. There probably are dozens or hundreds more genes, yet to be identified, involved in the universal propensity for transcendence, he said.

Certainly spirituality and religion has inspired much of the world’s great architecture, art, music, and other areas of creativity. It also has inspired wars, hatred, and destruction. Clearly there is a powerful link between religion and spirituality and the way it affects our thinking.

Perhaps it is the process of worship that provides the chemicals the brain needs in order to function, or perhaps the brain inspires the feeling of the religious trance that is attributed to god. For me, it was always the music that led me to feel most spiritual in church. Singing choral music or listening to it is very pleasurable for me, and can lead me to a rapturous state of mind.

But I also had a very rapturous experience when I went crazy, and I’ve had them when I’ve had sex, so perhaps the areas of the brain that control all these things are related. Maybe religious people get so hung up on sex because they experience those rapturous feelings during sex – or maybe because they don’t and become jealous that others do?

Religion has to be seen as more than a mythology, but as a pathway to something else that is deeply spiritual and so transformative. Those who have no interest in transformation, only in the security of their own belief system, miss the point of connecting yourself with a higher power and a deeper way of life — the need to learn to be more aware of yourself and the world around you, and more compassionate to other beings.

Join the Kos…

Daily Kos is calling for bloggers to join their no vote stand on Gonzales. I certainly oppose him, and have encouraged my Senators to vote “NO”. Please do the same, if you oppose Gonzales.

Daily Kos :: No on Gonzales

We, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales’s advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales’s legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law’s undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales’s endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions “quaint.”

Legal opinions at the highest level have grave consequences. What were the consequences of Gonzales’s actions? The policies for which Gonzales provided a cover of legality – views which he expressly reasserted in his Senate confirmation hearings – inexorably led to abuses that have undermined military discipline and the moral authority our nation once carried. His actions led directly to documented violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and widespread abusive conduct in locales around the world.

Michael Posner of Human Rights First observed: “After the horrific images from Abu Ghraib became public last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the world should ‘judge us by our actions [and] watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes.'” We agree. It is because of this that we believe the only proper course of action is for the Senate to reject Alberto Gonzales’s nomination for Attorney General. As Posner notes, “[t]he world is indeed watching.” Will the Senate condone torture? Will the Senate condone the rejection of the rule of law?

With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

Real Women have Curves

BBW Art: The Broad Band

Welcome to the Broad Band, where you can see Broads of all Widths (and Bandwidths) on the internet. Did you know that Vogue imported the word “cellulite” into the United States in 1973 as a pseudo-medical term for what was once healthy female flesh? (Thanks, Naomi Wolf, for this info!) Sick of Vogue and Seventeen? It’s time to reinvent our notions of beauty.

Via Brutal Women

Uselessness

An ancient gnarled tree:
Too fibrous for a logger’s saw,
Too twisted to fit a carpenter’s square,
Outlasts the whole forest.

Loggers delight in straight grained, strong, fragrant wood. If the timber is too difficult to cut, too twisted to be made straight, too foul-odored for cabinets, and too spongy for firewood, it is left alone. Useful trees are cut down. Useless ones survive.

The same is true of people. The strong are conscripted. The beautiful are exploited. Those who are too plain to be noticed are the ones who survive. They are left alone and safe.

But what if we ourselves are among such plain persons? Though others may neglect us, we should not thing of ourselves as being without value. We must not accept the judgment of others as the measure of our own self worth. Instead, we should live our lives in simplicity.

Surely, we will have flaws, but we must take stock in them according to our own judgment and then use them as a measure of self-improvement. Since we need not expend energy in putting on airs or maintaining a position, we are actually free to cultivate the best parts of our personalities. Thus, to be considered useless in not a reason for despair, but an opportunity. It is the chance to live without interference and to express one’s own individuality.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I think a part of what Tao teaches me is that nothing is really useless. Even a tree with no other purpose takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, allowing us to breathe.

The weeds I remove from my garden are put into the composter, to make soil for future plants. My recycling output usually equals my trash output now, and I keep working to generate less and less trash. I look for recyclable containers or tins or other things I can use again. I give away my used goods to the Salvation Army or Amvets when I can. So what seems useless to some, I try to find some use for.

Even my nephew and sister, who are mentally disabled, have their purpose. My nephew now lives with a kind woman who tries to help him, and so she feels useful in helping him with his life. They both are useful to me in providing me with more compassion and understanding for the disabled, and someone for me to care for. My mother found her purpose in life in caring for them and for so many other people.

The best way to get out of feeling useless is to help someone else with their problems. Right now, I’m helping my sister-in-law and her husband, providing bridge loans while they get moved and resettled. I don’t mind helping out. It makes me feel useful. I care for my family and my pets, taking my cat to the vet today. Seeing people caring for all those pets, you can see how useful even a pet can be to someone, providing love and affection that person might not get otherwise.

It’s easy to just dismiss someone or something as useless. But it’s a lot more fulfilling to take another look, and respect that person or thing as a part of Tao, and prehaps see the true usefulness. At least, it’s worth a try.

America the Model for Democracy? Think again…

MSNBC – Dream On America

When the soviets withdrew from Central Europe, U.S. constitutional experts rushed in. They got a polite hearing, and were sent home. Jiri Pehe, adviser to former president Vaclav Havel, recalls the Czechs’ firm decision to adopt a European-style parliamentary system with strict limits on campaigning. “For Europeans, money talks too much in American democracy. It’s very prone to certain kinds of corruption, or at least influence from powerful lobbies,” he says. “Europeans would not want to follow that route.” They also sought to limit the dominance of television, unlike in American campaigns where, Pehe says, “TV debates and photogenic looks govern election victories.”

So it is elsewhere. After American planes and bombs freed the country, Kosovo opted for a European constitution. Drafting a post-apartheid constitution, South Africa rejected American-style federalism in favor of a German model, which leaders deemed appropriate for the social-welfare state they hoped to construct. Now fledgling African democracies look to South Africa as their inspiration, says John Stremlau, a former U.S. State Department official who currently heads the international relations department at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg: “We can’t rely on the Americans.” The new democracies are looking for a constitution written in modern times and reflecting their progressive concerns about racial and social equality, he explains. “To borrow Lincoln’s phrase, South Africa is now Africa’s ‘last great hope’.”

Insecurity

MaxSpeak, You Listen!: INVEST THIS

Quotable is Barkley Rosser, Professor of Economics at James Madison University, January 20, 2005, in the Harrisonburg Daily-News Record (print version only):

“Second involves the private accounts proposal, with the stock market forecast to rise annually at 7.8% per year forever. However, if economic growth decelerates [as projected by the Social Security Trustees–mbs] we should expect stock market growth to slow down much more. We had a mild recession in 2001 and the economy is now growing above its historical rate. However, all stock market indices remain below their March, 2000 peaks, the NASDAQ below half that peak, even though President Bush pushed through tax cuts favoring stock market investment. We hear that the stock market has always increased over periods at least 20 years long. But many people die less than 20 years after they retire, possibly facing negative returns. The Dow-Jones hit 1000 in July, 1966, not reached again until the end of 1982. The Nikkei in Japan remains below half its level of more than 15 years ago. The impending retirement of baby boomers may worsen this as their stock market investment for retirement ran up stocks in the 1990s. As they retire, they will start selling stocks, putting downward pressure on the market (price-earnings ratios remain above historical averages).”

[MaxSpeak] A basic assumption in the debate about Social Security is that everyone should be invested in equities, or private sector assets in general. We beg to differ. Most people — meaning those whose ability to accumulate wealth is limited — need title to low-risk assets. This means pension plans with defined benefits, wherein the risk lies with the party better able to shoulder it — the employer. Such employers need to be properly regulated to ensure responsible fiduciary behavior. The trends have been in the other direction. For people who want to save for bequests, there are already tax-favored vehicles available.

Most people won’t beat the market. Neither can most highly-paid fund managers. You pay them extra for a sub-market rate of return. Pick individual stocks? Forget it. You’re playing against people with much better information, and the time to make the best use of it. “Control over your own money” is jive.

Sustainable Living

GreenBiz News | Japanese Burger Chain Powers Steel Mill with Food Waste

Maybe our government could support projects like this, if we weren’t busy plundering another country for oil…
________

Japanese Burger Chain Powers Steel Mill with Food Waste
Source: Japan for Sustainability

TOKYO, Jan. 19, 2005 – Mos Food Services, Inc., a Japanese burger chain with 1,467 stores across the country and 120 stores overseas, is actively promoting the recycling of food waste. The company says it has started recycling food waste and warehouse waste (used packaging material such as cardboard boxes and plastic bags) in the Kanto region (Tokyo and six neighboring prefectures). The food waste includes products that are unsellable due to breakage or damage and a portion of expired food products, and amounted to nearly 0.14% of the total annual food purchases of all chain stores in fiscal 2003.

In the Kanto Region, about 26 tons of food and warehouse waste from Mos Food have been processed at the Chiba Biogas Center operated by Japan Recycling Co. Food waste is recycled into methane gas based on Japan’s Food Recycling Law and used as fuel at a steel mill next to the center.

In the Kinki and Chubu regions (western and central Japan), the company has been recycling food waste into animal feed since 2003 in cooperation with Kyoto Prefecture’s Yasuda Sangyo Co., which has one of the largest food recycling plants in Japan. Mos Food expects about 50% of the total annual warehouse waste from its chain stores will be recycled at the two plants in the Kanto and Kinki regions.

Laughter

Hilly village lanes,
Whitewashed sunlit walls.
Cerulean sea.
The laughter of children.

No matter where in the world you go, no matter how many languages are spoken, and no matter how many times cultures and government clash, the laughter of children is universally uplifting. The mirth of adults can be variously jealous, insecure, sadistic, cruel, or absurd, but the sound of playing children evokes the ideal of a simple and pure act. There are no concepts, no ideologies — only the innocent pleasure of life.

We as adults dwell upon our grizzled complexities, our existential anxieties, and our preoccupation with responsibilities. We hear the merriment of children and may sigh over our lost childhood. Although we can no longer fit into our old clothes and become young again, we can take comfort in the optimism of children. Their rejoicing can gladden us all.

We are too often in a rush for our children to grow up. It is far better for them to fully live each year of their lives. Let them learn what is appropriate to their time, let them play. And when their childhood is spent at adolescence, help them in a gentle transition. Then their laughter will continue to resonate with cheer and hope for us all.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Laughter is truly the best medicine. In taking care of your health, it’s important to relax and enjoy life as much as possible. Drink some green tea in the morning instead of that coffee, and see if your spirits don’t lighten up. Practice meditation and yoga. Make time for yourself, and plan special outings that you look forward to and enjoy. It doesn’t have to be fancy – a trip to the fabric store to admire different fabrics. A walk in your neighborhood, taking care to smile and greet your neighbors. A visit to a garden center to admire the flowers in bloom.

Take time for laughter – the laughter of nature, the laughter of your own spirit, the laughter of your friends and family. Not sarcastic or cynical laughter, but real, honest, friendly healthy laughter. Namaste.

from a previous post on laughter

I don’t think I feel much differently about laughter now than I did then. I always take time to notice children when I see them, watch how they act and am amused by their antics. Sometimes they see me and smile, and those children get a big smile back. Sometimes we will then play peekaboo or just looking at each other and then looking away, giggling. Other children become shy when they see they are being looked at, and I try to respect their privacy then. Others almost immediately look guilty and stop what they were doing. Those children I feel sorry for, since they obviously think adults are always judging them. I wonder what their parents have done to make them feel that way.

I miss my own children being small; I miss playing with them. I’m always glad I took time away from work to be with them. I have a golden retriever now and we play a lot, but he is getting older and playing less. So now I long for a puppy to play with.

Enjoy and appreciate the children in your life – and in yourself. If you find yourself playing and laughing, don’t feel guilty and think you should be doing something else. Enjoy the play and the laughter and hust have fun. We all need more fun and laughter in our lives.

Renewal

City on a hill,
Untouched lands beyond.
A fallow field is
The secret of fertility.

In the city, we see millions of lives represented in the windows, doors, and many floors of each building. We see excitement and the glories of civilization. But no matter how much those who follow Tao may enjoy the city, they understand the need for retreat into nature.

In the countryside, they find the nurturing quality of freedom. They can see new possibilities and can wander without societal impositions. In the past, pioneers saw the open prairies and were filled with dreams of dominating nature with the glories of man. Now we know different: We must preserve the wilds for our very survival.

We need time to lie fallow. If you cannot leave the city, just find a little quiet each day to withdraw into yourself. If you are able to walk in fields or in the hills, so much the better. But none of us can maintain the fertility of our beings without renewal.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

We all need time to rest and reflect, to renew ourselves physically, spiritually, and mentally. Being out in my garden does this for me, or being in nature anywhere. Other ways I achieve renewal are soaking in the spa, quietly relaxing, or sometimes just taking that mental second to ask myself if something is really that important before getting upset.

I’m off to New York this week so will definitely enjoy the city. And appreciate my 70 degree weather and my garden when I get back! I always like coming back from a trip because the garden will have changed. The roses are just starting to put out new growth; they will be covered in it when I get back. And the bulbs may start to bloom. And it will be a new month, so I will get to flip all the calendars to a new month – yet another renewal!